Interview: Joel Osteen on the Future of America's Churches and Him Pastoring One

Out of a cancelled storm watch in Houston and into sunny California, Pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church – one of the largest churches in the nation – is getting a rare refresher before heading into another weekend of services with some 40,000 attendants.

After giving the first part of his day to God, which he encourages his church to do for a positive and productive day, Osteen spoke with The Christian Post Tuesday morning talking about megachurches, megapastors, and what a typical day for the pastor looks like.

CP: Your second book is coming out this fall? You said you wanted to expand your outreach with this book and you've already reached millions. What is it in this new book that will reach out to even more?

Osteen: I’m just covering some different subjects that I didn’t in my last book so I’m just excited just for a new way to touch people’s lives and hopefully plant a seed of hope in their hearts.

CP: Do you have a title yet for your upcoming book?

Osteen: I don’t have it 100 percent yet. I probably would rather not just say it yet.

CP: I saw a broadcast of one of your services and it seems your wife Victoria has a strong presence on the pulpit as you do. I heard she’s also coming out with a book. What will she be writing on?

Osteen: I don’t think she’s totally decided on what subject yet but she is very involved and she’s just in the process of getting her thought together on it now. She’s got something coming out on Mother’s Day of 2008.

CP: I spoke with your brother-in-law Jim Graff several months ago on his book A Significant Life. He highlights the fact that most of America doesn't attend megachurches. At the same time, megachurches are growing. What does the future look like for American churchgoers? Will more people be in megachurches?

Osteen: I think so; I believe that all the churches are going to continue to grow. I think faith in America is at an all-time high. And I think as we continue to help people and to change with the time, to be relevant and practical. I don’t see it going down at all. When I grew up – you know I’m a preacher’s kid – it was a big deal to have a church of a thousand. But now there’s churches all over the world with thousands and thousands. I just see it continuing to grow.

CP: You said that faith in America is at an all-time high. But many Christians believe America is more secularized than ever. What are your thoughts on that?

Osteen: That may be true as well. I just see again from growing up in this, I’ve never seen people talking about their faith as much, I’ve never seen a city like Houston, we have probably about a dozen churches that have thousands of people in them. So everywhere I go, I can see that people are just hungry for hope and hungry for the love of Christ. I’m sure somebody could see it the other side but I’ve never seen faith so high and I’ve never seen people talk about their faith so much.

CP: Scott Thumma at Hartford Seminary said that pastors of the largest megachurches are in some sense “a brand in and of themselves.” Do you feel you’ve made yourself a brand or at least that that’s how people in America view you as?

Osteen: I don’t really think about it. He may be right. I know it’s something we haven’t done intentionally. I think anytime you try to reach out and help people and use the media … you know all my stuff, it’s just who I am. I’m positive and I’m hopeful but I don’t know that I would disagree; maybe it is [true], but I don’t know if it’s a bad thing. My hope though is that everything points toward the Lord.

CP: On another note, a Barna report came out saying that most Americans and Christians as well don't actually know who high-profile Christian leaders such as yourself are. Does that surprise you?

Osteen: I don’t really think about it that much. I just continue trying to do what God’s called us to do. It seems like everywhere I go, people stop me and talk to me. I would like to think we’re making a difference, but it’s really not about us being known, it’s about making God known. I hope none of us are in it for ego or power.

CP: You were voted one of the most fascinating by Barbara Walters and you’ve already accomplished a lot this past year. What are your goals for 2007? What can we look forward to this year from you and your ministry?

Osteen: I think the main thing, I just want to continue to grow and be open to what God wants to do. I got my book coming out in the fall and love to use the media in new ways to reach more people. It’s all happened so fast. I’ve just been doing this for eight years. I guess my main goal is just to continue to reach people the best we can, hopefully help impact their lives and just change culture for better.

CP: You just mentioned that you’re thinking of trying out new ways in reaching out. I’m curious if you have plans to reach out more on a more international scale? Maybe pursue satellite churches or something along the lines of what Rick Warren is doing around the world with his Purpose-Driven model.

Osteen: Well, we definitely do. I don’t think they’re formalized as much as like Rick’s and in his P.E.A.C.E. Plan. But I feel like our strong, our gifting is through the media so we really look at opportunities to put our broadcast and our message all over the world. So that’s probably our biggest thrust right now and [see] what other markets are open. We’re looking strongly at the Philippines and South Africa. We already air in Australia and Europe. We’re going to increase some of those. It’s a smaller world with the media. We’re definitely looking at that. Plus, we’re going to continue to increase our support in India. My father started that years ago and I’ve been there with Victoria many times. We support orphans and native pastors over there. That’s kind of where the large part of our international thrust is.

Plus, we’re translating our weekly broadcast into different languages now. One goes out through Spanish and we’re looking at several other languages.

CP: Have you heard of satellite churches?

Osteen: We definitely have. You know at this point it’s not something I really feel like I’m supposed to be doing. We have a lot of people ask us all the time. I don’t know. Even in our city, my friends, a lot of them have four or five campuses. You know God’s given us that big new facility and it’s pretty centrally located. I feel like that’s right for us now. There may be a day where typically you can do stuff in cities all over the world. I know people right now watch us over the Internet over in China and other places, they watch us live and it’s 12-14 hours difference, but they still watch us live. I don’t feel as strongly about that as I do with the mass media and the broadcast side.

CP: With the new Compaq Center, you had acknowledged that the church had cut back on its charitable giving. You said this is a season for establishing the church and building its base. Could you elaborate on the “base” you mentioned?

Osteen: What I mean by that is it cost us about $120 million to get into that new facility – that’s paying the lease and renovating it. We support a lot of missionaries all over the world. But at that time, I was just saying that in order to get us in there and get some of that debt down, we have not grown [in supporting] as much as I wish I’d like to. When I say establish the base – the more the church grows, the membership, the more funds we have to support people all over the world. Where we were before – without moving into this facility – we were capped out; we could not take any more people. So now I feel like it’s a season – two, three years. We’re in there now, things are going strong, we’re starting to support again, in fact we’ve started many of those outreaches already, started them back up. I feel like we’ve almost gone through that season.

CP: How many years do you project for that new facility to be paid off?

Osteen: We’ve paid about $75 million of that 125. I think we could probably pay it off sooner, but I don’t put all the money towards that debt. We still spend $30 million on TV every year. We can pay it off in a year if we rearranged the money. But I don’t feel good about that. I feel like continuing to press forward.

CP: You emphasized giving the first part of the day to God in a message. What do you do first thing in the morning and can you describe what a typical weekday for you is like?

Osteen: I start off every morning just taking the first half hour – I’ve already done this part (this morning) – to read my Scriptures and just take time to pray. Mainly, I thank God for what He has done in my life, for my wonderful family and all His goodness. And maybe read a little more, maybe a devotional or something like that; I guess it depends on if I’m not studying. [On] a typical day, I usually go out and I like to run for half an hour, exercise, lift weights.

CP: What about a typical workday?

Osteen: [For] a typical workday … I would get up and I would spend that time with the Lord and then [on] Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I would probably study; I just spend almost a whole day reading, listening to tapes. I usually start early in the morning maybe about 7:00 and work until about 4:00. I’ll take a break and go play with my kids. A lot of times at night we’ll go up to the gym at our church and play basketball, go for a walk with my wife. Typically, I work out of my home; I typically spend most of my time preparing for the weekend. I spend Wednesday studying, Thursday and Friday writing my message and Saturday morning I go over it again and Saturday night we have service. Then Sunday, work all day and usually get home at about 4:00. And then Monday and Tuesday, I try to take some time off.

CP: What tapes do you listen to? Is there any preacher in particular?

Osteen: I just do everybody. I like to get as broad as I can. I probably have 50-60 people and all the different books. I just get as broad as I can.

CP: It’s Valentine’s Day. Do you have any plans with your wife?

Osteen: We’re out here in California. We’re just going to hang out. We’re not far from the beach so I think we’re just going to have a relaxed time. We don’t have our kids with us so we’re just going to have time getting away and getting refreshed. We try to do it about three to four times a year. That’s sort of what we’re doing this week. We’re just trying to get refreshed.

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